Lynn Coffey always had a fascination with an older time. When she was a young girl she saved up her allowance money to buy an oil lamp, something that her mother found particularly perplexing. She told her mother at the young age of six that one day she would leave her Florida hometown and settle down in a log cabin in the mountains.
Coffey was true to her word. In 1970 she discovered the small town of Love, Virginia, off of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and made it her permanent home ten years later. She fit in easily with her new neighbors, who taught her how to live “the old way.” They taught her about canning and farming, among other practices.
“They gave me my whole way of life,” she said, “and I continued to live like that.”
After living in the mountains for a year, Coffey teamed up with her friend and neighbor Bunny Stein to create a newspaper called Backroads that told the stories of their neighbors. Stein retired after the first year but Coffey kept the paper running for 25 years. During that time, she got to know the mountain people who lived around her intimately.
“It’s been a really humbling thing to know that as an outsider, that I came in and the people trusted me to write their stories,” Coffey said. She mentioned that she had been warned the mountain people were clannish and wouldn’t be accepting to outsiders.
“I never felt that that was true. When I moved up here, I found them to be very warm and generous. They’re private people, but they were just so kind to me and they continued to be kind to me all these years.”
She started by interviewing a few of her close neighbors, who then referred her to other family members, and she continued to interview the mountain people within the small communities that surrounded Love.
“Each story is completely different,” Coffey said. “That amazes me because they were all born and raised right here. I don’t go more than 20 miles away to get an interview. I stick really close to my home here in Love.”
When she decided to retire, the people who read Backroads and whose families were included in the paper over the years wanted Coffey to do something with all of the stories. From 2007 to 2009 Coffey published three books filled with the stories from Backroads. The three Backroads books were titled “Plain Folk and Simple Livin’,” “The Road to Chicken Holler,” and “Faces of Appalachia.”
In 2013 Coffey interviewed 19 of the mountain people who were still living and compiled their stories into another book called “Appalachian Heart.”
In June of this year, she published another book with the stories of 17 more people, titled “Mountain Folk.”
Coffey will visit the Nelson Memorial Library on Monday, July 27 at 6:30 p.m. to talk about the stories in her newest book.
“It’s a nostalgic talk and it will take you back to a time that is no longer. I have a lot of stories from the mountain people that will certainly entertain everybody,” she said. “The mountain people are full of good humor.”
Coffey’s talk will conclude with a question and answer session for those who have questions about the mountain culture.
“I am proud and honored to be a spokesperson, a voice, for the mountain people because they have been very misrepresented and cast into the role of an ignorant hillbilly, and they are not anything like that,” she said.
Through her interviews Coffey found that although the mountain folk live a simpler life, they seem to be much happier than those who live in today’s fast-paced world.
“I think people are longing in their hearts for a simpler way of life, so it gives me a lot of pleasure to represent the mountain people who knew how to do it well,” she said.